- Battered flying fish
My dad always kept a boat during our growing up years. The first was called “Ti Jean” from a Derek Walcott play, and it was indeed “petit.” We couldn’t get too far but getting to Soufriere in the south of the island was enough and we all learned to water ski except my sister who was terrified. The later boats got a tiny bit more powerful and bigger and we were able to get over to Martinique which lies to the north of St. Lucia. I can remember “C’est Toute” and “Bal Fini” No doubt my siblings will correct me if I’ve got these wrong. Notice all the names are in Kweyol, the patois or French dialect which is spoken in St. Lucia. My father was an undying patriot, who was St. Lucian born, and he took great delight in using this dialect.
These were exciting times, made even more so by the marine wild life. It was common in those days to see dolphins, turtles and even whales if we were lucky but the latter tended to keep to deeper water. Flying fish were abundant and always caused the cry of “Look!!! Flying fish!!” coming from whomever had spotted them first. They literally fly out of the water in their tens and twenties and land really far from their exit point thereby escaping (we hope) whatever was chasing them which must have had bigger and sharper teeth.
My mother would buy them from who knows where, as the supermarkets in those days were in their infancy. These are not big fish, not dissimilar in size to a Mediterranean sardine. So, scaling and cleaning them was a job and a half. We always had them battered and the best thing in the world, near to heavenly in fact, was to have a flying fish sandwich the next day if we were lucky enough to have leftovers. Strangely Kirsty says this is her favourite way to eat them too.
For me, flying fish conjure up memories of salt and sun and carefree days. They also make me think of Olita who would have been the poor soul cleaning and cooking them. So….imagine my delight a few days ago at the supermarket, when I happened on packs of frozen, all cleaned and ready, flying fish from Tobago. I have to say I was a little sceptical about how they would translate as I tend to buy fresh fish, but honestly….they have not disappointed one bit. Quite the opposite.
The library illustration below shows the lovely gossamer wings and huge eyes all the better to see you with my dear.
When a West Indian says you need to “season up” the fillets first, they do not mean as in Europe to add salt and pepper. They usually mean….add the garlic and onion and pepper and lime and in fact all the ingredients I list below. A West Indian also means the seasoning as a marinade. These things take time and must be respected. So, please “season up” your fish fillets and let them mix and mingle with these flavours for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge.
10 flying fish fillets
2 seasoning peppers finely chopped
1 green chilli pepper finely chopped
juice of 1 lime/lemon
1 large clove garlic (pressed)
2 salad onions roughly chopped
salt and pepper
1 large beaten egg
60g (1 c) coarse whole-wheat breadcrumbs
100g (1 c) white flour
salt and pepper
Heat up a large frying pan with 3 tbsp olive oil and assemble the batter ingredients as in the photo above. You do not want to deep fry the fillets, rather give them a light oily base upon which to cook.
Aunty Maria, mother of my dear friend Janis, who catered the most delicious food right up until her death recently, taught me that when you are dipping food first into egg and then into flour, use different fingers/hands for the egg and then the flour or the build up on your fingers just gets intolerable. However, I used a pair of tongs with these which was perfectly satisfactory.
Less is definitely more when you are cooking these delicate fillets. If your oil is hot, then maybe 2 minutes per side is all you need. remember they will keep cooking after you have removed them from the frying pan, so err on the side of caution.
I have shown two different uses for these fillets. Stuffed into a pita bread with salady bits and water cress pesto, and later served with a salad. This recipe could be used for any type of small fish fillet and I’d love to hear from you if you use it in a different way.